Sunday, November 10, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis

This screening was an IFFBoston preview, and it's good to be a member, as there was a heck of a line of people there that weren't necessarily going to get seats because this sort of early screening has a lot of press folks and festival members for whom priority seating at these screenings is a perk. Show up at enough of their events, and they even know where you like to sit. So, visit their site and sign up.

The guest for the evening was star Oscar Isaac, and after seeing him with a 1961 hipster beard for the entire movie, it took a few moments to connect this to the movie's title character:

Oscar Isaac

If I were a real journalist, I probably would have recorded the whole Q&A and mined it for this post rather than just taking a few pictures and hoping the ones that weren't obviously blurred on the phone didn't necessitate the use of the "horrible photography" tag.

Isaac didn't really start answering questions until after the credits finished running, so I can't honestly say that the above was his reaction to why people kept casting him in movies where he fights with Carey Mulligan. But let's pretend it was!

I have to admit, there were a few times I got a bit lost in the post-movie talk, just because my knowledge of pop culture can be kind of focused, so when Isaac started talking about meeting a musician who had worked with Dave Van Ronk and what a big deal this was, I was a bit at sea, taking a longer-than-necessary time to figure out that Van Ronk was one of the principle inspirations for the movie.

Lest you think Isaac was grumpy or obscure, though, he wasn't:

Oscar Isaac

Despite this not being a Chlotrudis-sponsored screenings, one of the first questions was about the cat(s), and this led to a pretty funny side-story about how he'd had bad luck with cats before this movie, with a seemingly friendly one giving him a bite that required antibiotics. The best cat bit came a bit later, though, when he paraphrased one of the Coens as saying that the movie "needed a plot, so we put a cat in there." That's kind of glib, but also rings true; Llewyn's attempts to (poorly) look after the cat are perhaps the most active things he does, and certainly the one which runs through more minutes of the movie than anything else (and, ultimately, kind of telling). It's an impressive indication of both just how wispy this sort of movie can be, and how good filmmakers actually can do a great job of tying them together with something fairly minor.

Inside Llewyn Davis

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 7 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (preview, DCP)

Inside Llewyn Davis, early on, shapes up to be the story of a house cat who escapes into a world of adventure that the title character can only see as frustration. That's not the direction that Joel & Ethan Coen wind up going most of the time, but it still isn't a bad way to look at it - there's a lot of wandering, human and feline, that does have more purpose than you might have expected by the end.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer in 1961 New York, formerly part of a duo but now on his own. That's not going so hot; not only does he get punched out after a set for things he'd said the night before, but he doesn't have a place of his own to go after that, winding up in the spare bedroom of Professor Mitch Gorfein (Ethan Phillips) - and accidentally locking himself and the Gorfeins' cat out when he leaves. His next stop is Jean (Carey Mulligan), who is very angry to possibly be carrying his baby rather than that of her fantastically sweet boyfriend and musical partner Jim (Justin Timberlake). From there, it's a long few days of cat-chasing, couch-surfing, and driving to Chicago, starting to wonder if this is the life he wants.

Even though this film is set up to poke at Llewyn Davis's brain and see what makes him tick at a potentially pivotal moment in his life, he is not necessarily a problem to be solved here. In fact, while it's not necessarily obvious at most points of the story, there's an interesting commitment to apparently getting nowhere to the way the Coens plot this: It's not just that the script breaks down into chapters where the characters don't overlap despite one setting another up directly; it's the way Llewyn moves through the story. Sometimes he will wander into a new situation with almost no reason for him to be there, and the connection to what has happened before will seem weak even after it is revealed; other times the Coens will take a chained series of events that other writers would be proud of and quietly undercut any sense of accomplishment. The movie never stops, and the characters don't necessarily move, but it never feels like they're out of sync.

Full review at EFC.

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